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Magic Garden, Hampton Court Palace

Revealing elements of a landscape’s past

We generally avoid using the word ‘unique’ but in the case of the Magic Garden it really can be justified! The opportunity to create a new family play garden on the site of King Henry VIII’s tiltyard at Hampton Court Palace was a once-in-a-career project, and the response from the public has been tremendous:  in its first year the garden attracted over 250,000 people, helping to boost Hampton Court visitor figures to record levels. People of all ages seem to love it.

Our design was inspired by the rich history of the Palace and the site itself. We always wanted to create a garden, not just a playground – a relaxing as well as a stimulating environment, with places to pause and rest, as well as places that are truly active and adventurous. We created a contemporary space that embraces the rich historical, cultural and mythical legacy of the Palace to deliver a ‘playable landscape’ that is unlike any other, and a landmark destination within the grounds.

We developed a strong garden structure, conjuring up different levels in what had been a completely flat space and creating areas with different characters: a tournament ground, wild wood, mythical beasts lair, strange topiary garden, encampment, and a spiral mount with moat and grotto. The journey through the garden provides challenges, obstacles and illusions that play with the notions of hierarchy, status and scale – in effect, low-tech magic!

We worked with a number of artists and craftsmen who created various mythical and heraldic beasts associated with the Palace, including a steam-emitting, 30-metre-long dragon, and an extraordinary giant dragon’s nest made in living willow by Tom Hare.

The garden was officially opened by the Duchess of Cambridge in May 2016. In 2017, the project won a Landscape Institute Award and two from the Society of Garden Designers (SGD), including the Grand Award.

“ This is an exciting, generous and inspirational project. The garden is full of surprises and fun. It really is magical.”

The Society of Garden Designers Judging Panel